Themes and Meanings
Although at first glance A Feast of Snakes may appear to have no message of significance other than the shock value of violence and aberrant sexuality, the reader is haunted by the work long after the last page is turned. The novel is one of those works that appeals to an untapped region of the subconscious, to a collection of mythological and archetypal symbols that haunt the world of dreams. If there is meaning in the work, it is on that level, as Crews brings to life the subconscious netherworld of his readers through his characters.
By piling up characters, narrative points of view, and disjointed vignettes of plot, the work illustrates the desperation of humans as they realize their limitations. Employing the most universally feared archetype, the snake, as the launching point for the plot, Crews pulls the reader into a mythic dream world where anything is possible. The work is more than a satire on a segment of society where the mettle of a man is judged by his ability to drink hard, fight hard, mistreat women, and engage in blood sport; it is ultimately a commentary on the beast that lurks in all humans, waiting for the opportunity to be unleashed and avenge its captivity. Thus, the ultimate theme of the work is that all humanity must be on guard, must recognize that the dark side exists, and must exercise control over it. Ironically, in his last act of madness, Joe Lon Mackey comments that he has regained control.